CLEVELAND — In her hood, which also means, “helping out our disenfranchised, Chrishawndra Matthews is known as “The Book Dealer,” who “[goes] into those neighborhoods that some people are scared to go…going into those neighborhoods where I know testing scores are low.”
But Matthews is a mom first, who took on Cleveland’s literacy battle after noticing her son’s struggle with his peers.
“My son started reading at two, and then when he started kindergarten, he was only kindergarten that could read and he began to get bullied,” she shared. “I began to read and understand what the statistics in Cuyahoga County were around reading, especially with young children his age, and realized that they were falling behind on a reading score compared to the suburbs with the word gap.”
Matthews' organization, “Literacy in the H.O.O.D,” advocates tirelessly for better reading and support resources for inner-city kids. Since its start, the organization has provided more than 75,000 free books to children and their families.
“The real, real big thing is to do something for this community,” Matthews explained. “Sixty-six percent of Cleveland adults are functioning illiterate and they're basing that off of reading the RTA schedule, filling out a job application or rental application. So, when you think about that, you know, we need to work on our family as a whole. It’s just not enough to say, okay, well, these babies can't pass the test. Maybe their parents can't help them with homework as well. [There’s] a lot of pieces to the puzzle as we begin to combat illiteracy with Literacy in the H.O.OD.”
“The biggest, free book fair in Cleveland”
Last year, Matthew made her dream of three years a reality. Reflecting on the inaugural event, she said “it’s surreal to be back but I can see the smiles on those babies' faces just like it was yesterday.”
This year the event is back at the Grown Folks Lounge at 10300 Union Avenue in Cleveland from noon until 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 3.
Matthews says she hopes the event helps curb the “summer slide” among inner-city students.
“The summer slide says if a child doesn't read at least six books over the summer, when school starts back they're not reading at the same grade level…it's so much bigger than me. How do we make sure that these children don't fall behind the cracks, don't fall between the cracks and have access to free books? How can we expect those children to exceed and excel on the path to becoming lifelong learners if in fact they don't have books, not only books, but books that they would like to read.”
Matthews says she has up to 10,000 books to give away for free. In addition, she says there will be food, bouncy houses, a group story time session and vendors including Ohio Means Jobs.
“I'm overwhelmed in my heart…this was a dream of mine to do the biggest giveaway that Cleveland's ever seen. So now, with some help of some generous sponsors, we're really going to put on for the city and make sure that these babies have access to books.”
The next chapter: Brick and mortar
While Matthews continues to carry out her mission to improve child literacy skills, she is manifesting another dream to grow and expand Literacy in the H.O.O.D.
“When I get a space, I’m going to blow this literacy thing out of the water. There is nowhere you can go in the city of Cleveland to become a stronger reader,” she said.
Matthews says her dream brick and mortar space would be located “in the hood,” preferably in the Buckeye neighborhood.
“I really believe that one day Buckeye can look like Larchmere…I would love to be a part of the rebuilding,” Matthews said.
Matthews says her space would include wraparound services for trauma. In addition, the Literacy in the H.O.O.D space would be an area “where parents, children and caregivers can come to me. An area where we can have dinner and story time. An area where you can say, Chris, I [have] a ninth-grader and I need some chapter books and I can say, meet me at the office.[we’re] going to have those chapter books ready."
As Matthews explained, “the vision is bigger than me because we are changing the culture around reading in the inner city.”
Matthews is currently raising money to make her dream location a reality. To donate, click here.